City leaders to crack down on open containers outside harbor area

Matt Algarin

City leaders are two votes away from adopting an ordinance that would help regulate the public possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages in Destin.

"We've had a number of complaints over the past year or so on some of our public right of ways," City Manager Maryann Ustick said. "It has come to our attention from the sheriff's office that we don't have in our city an ordinance that prohibits the consumption or possession of open containers in our city."

With a unanimous vote during Monday night's City Council meeting, city leaders approved the language for the proposed ordinance. City leaders have been discussing the idea of regulating where residents and visitors can go with beverages in hand since February after a Log story about open container laws — or lack thereof — in the city.

The ordinance would prohibit the possession of open containers and the consumption of alcohol on public right of ways. Per the ordinance, a right of way includes any public easement, highway, street, bridge, tunnel, public parking lot, or land owned and controlled by the city. The South Harbor “Festive Marketplace” would be exempt.

It's not uncommon to drive along Mountain Drive and see people sitting on the street's benches with open containers of alcohol in hand. A staff report provided to the council noted that complaints about transients with alcohol has reached a “higher level” lately.

"After speaking directly with the individuals, it is apparent to the officers that the possession and consumption of alcohol was contributing to their behavior, resulting in a degradation of the quality of life in these areas," the report reads.

If approved, the ordinance provides law enforcement officials the ability to arrest violators on a misdemeanor offense or give them a Notice to Appear. If they are found guilty, both the misdemeanor and Notice to Appear can lead to fines, which range from $100 for a first violation, $200 for a second and $500 for a third.

The possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages is already prohibited in city parks, with the exception of Clement Taylor Park where permits are required.

"How are you going to enforce that on a public beach?" Councilman Jim Bagby asked, referring to Norriego Point, which is a public park.

Councilwoman Sandy Trammell told her colleagues that she was "all for this," but wanted to make sure the city was addressing both the alcohol issue as well as the issue of people loitering on benches.

"I know the background for why we started looking at this, and I want to make sure that it doesn't just go from one street to the boardwalk," she said. “Are they now going to be loitering all over the park benches on the boardwalk because it's open container?"

Click here to read The Log's original story.

Capt. Ted Pecot from the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office reassured the council that deputies have the tools in place to handle that situation on the harbor, should it arise.

"A majority of the areas in the harbor district are private property," he said. "If there is a problem on private property, the property owner has the ability to issue a trespass warning."

City leaders will have to approve the proposed ordinance with two votes. The first vote will take place during their May 6 City Council meeting and the second May 20.